NFL Players Try a Different Boot Camp: Broadcast Booth

INGLEWOOD, California — Sebastian Joseph-Day, a former defender for the Los Angeles Rams, grimaced when he realized his mistake.

Moments ago, before Joseph-Day’s practice rep as an analyst at the NFL’s broadcast camp last week, an instructor reminded him to stay neutral and not say “we” or “us” when describing the action at a recorded Rams game.

But staying neutral can be difficult for Joseph-Day, who spent three seasons with the team. A “we” slipped in the middle of the exercise, but Joseph-Day, now Los Angeles Charger, bounced back and finished the exercise clean.

This The NFL created the workshop 15 years agoin part because players repeatedly want opportunities to thrive as broadcasters, network, and blunder in a controlled environment.

Held at the league’s West Coast headquarters, this year’s camp took place at a mature time in the media landscape, shortly after several commentators from the NFL’s leading broadcast partners switched jobs, most of them signing million-dollar contracts. Troy Aikman and Joe Buck He left Fox for ESPN after twenty years and Al Michaels leaves NBC 15 years later to search for Thursday night games for Amazon. All of them will reportedly earn eight figures a year.

Inflated salaries are the products of the NFL’s growing popularity: The league’s games accounted for 48 of the 50 most-watched broadcasts during the 2021 regular season, and by February Super Bowl records game’s best ratings within five years. Larry Fitzgerald, a former Arizona Cardinals receiver who participated in the program, said players have noticed the trend and its benefits.

“The fans are watching NFL games faster than ever before, and I think that’s been seen by organizations that pay top dollar for top talent,” he said.

“This definitely motivates a lot of guys, and I think it’s one of the places where I think it’s going to start getting crowded,” said Richard Sherman, a free agency columnist and camp participant.

But none of the networks’ main play-by-play duos have a Black, and only one Black play-by-play announcer, Greg Gumbel for CBS in 2001 and 2004, called a televised Super Bowl. Mike Tirico, who will replace Michaels on NBC, identifies as mixed race.

JA Adande, director of sports journalism at Northwestern University, said the lack of diversity among talented-employed NFL games isn’t ideal.

“It’s big money and it makes you wonder who’s getting this money and which publishers have these opportunities and avenues,” Adande said.

Tracy Perlman, the NFL’s senior vice president of football operations, said she is optimistic the camp can expand the pipeline. Media companies have long hired former gamers as analysts because of their knowledge and reputation of the game, but the list of former pros who failed to successfully transition into broadcasting is long and star-studded.

Hall of Famers, including quarterback Joe Montana and running Emmitt Smith, stumbled upon with microphones in their hands, is a fate the camp must thwart.

“Most people can’t just walk off the field and be in front of the camera,” Perlman said. “So we thought, especially with the partnerships we have, what we could do to create a program that would give them those skills.”

With high demand and the goal of keeping training sessions small, the NFL was more selective about attendees than in previous years. The league sent out personal invitations and received advice from teams to reach their players. From nearly 40 submissions, the NFL selected 24 predominantly Black players based on past experience and statements of interest appearing on camera and in podcasts. Faculty members have included producers and hiring managers from NBC, CBS, Fox Sports, and NFL Network.

Nate Burleson, who played 11 seasons in the NFL before retiring in 2014, is perhaps the camp’s foremost alumnus. Burleson is nearly ubiquitous on television as the co-host of the network’s flagship morning news show, “CBS Mornings,” and the host of the weekly pregame show, “The NFL Today.”

But when he joined camp in 2011, Burleson said he struggled with one-on-one exercise. Although he said that executives complimented him throughout the week, his performance in this exercise constantly annoyed him.

“While Camp has had as many reasons as it helped me develop my identity as a media personality, it honestly felt like a slap in the face,” Burleson said.

She said the camp broadened her interests and made her want to be more versatile.

“It was like knowing what you wanted to do but not having a full battery,” said Burleson, who won an Emmy award last year and was nominated once again last week. “Once you go, you are fully charged and have your direction.”

This year’s acting class spent a full day last week learning about broadcasters’ daily workflow and interview techniques in class sessions. The next day, they practiced arguing against each other in front of the camera. Sandy Nunez, vice president of on-air talent management at NFL Network, said a player contacted their manager about a potential job opening and smiled in the control room as a player completed the on-camera interview.

“I can get a lot of important information from here,” Nunez said, “so there’s definitely a lot of value.”

CBS coordinating producer Drew Kaliski says he enjoys hearing smart questions from players, and this off-season mess provides good conversation for networks to be more inclusive.

“We definitely need to diversify our announcement teams everywhere,” Kaliski said. “Having a lot of people to work with will make everyone better, stronger, smarter, and the shows will ultimately be better.”

Due to low turnover in network positions, faculty advised players to continue working on their own to stay prepared, suggesting they try broadcasting live on their local market or on podcasts as the barriers to entry are lower compared to national shows. .

Brandon Marshall, an NFL receiver for 13 seasons, echoed his recommendations. Marshall never attended camp, but earned contracts with Fox Sports and Showtime, and created the “I Am Athlete” podcast, where he and other former players discuss trending topics with guests including Deion Sanders and Antonio Brown.

Many of the episodes also shot for streaming received millions of views on YouTube. Marshall said he believes podcasting is an unconventional way his peers can take advantage of, whether they’ve had formal training like camp attendees or not.

“There are so many seats on ESPN, but the great thing about this space is that there are no rules,” Marshall said. “People win here because they go outside the box.”

First, Sherman has followed a similar path – trying to push journalistic representatives outside of national broadcast opportunities even while navigating his freelance agency. In March, his former Seattle teammate announced that he was joining the Rams at the free agency via his Twitter account of centre-back Bobby Wagner, and he used his self-titled podcast as a platform to cover everything from draft prospects to his mental health. 2021 arrests. Representing himself in place of a manager, Sherman is still in training but is also preparing for options after his acting career.

For him, talking about football is a natural extension of the players’ all-encompassing work of “walking, talking and breathing”.

He added: “It’s one of those things you enjoy being around the game and continuing to be part of a shape or fashion.”

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